Did I hear…

There’s certainly some sympathy in my heart for Michigan after sitting through last night’s Auburn debacle.  At least we’re not a media darling.  We were ranked low for a reason and it looks like the media was right on this one.

And I hate it when I’m right in cases like this too.  There is certainly plenty of soul searching to do for the entire Auburn offense but it is still clear to me this morning as it was a week ago that this offense has taken on the personality of its QB.  I don’t want to sound like I’m blasting Brandon Cox but even the second rate broadcast team ESPN had calling the game last night made the observations that Cox didn’t play like a 5th year senior.

Two plays were critical from my vantage point. The first was the interception in the end zone in the second quarter, the first of AU’s, what five turnovers?  The second was the fumble on the QB sneak in the third quarter.  I’m certain that if Auburn retains possession on those two plays that points are on the board and the lead is too much for USF to overcome.

Aside from the turnovers, the worst thing that happened to Auburn was halftime.  Other than the offensive miscues, Auburn was clearly in control in the second quarter and was on the brink of an explosion.  The redshirt freshman running back Mario Fannin had single handedly vaulted the Tigers into the game.  The game was in hand IF the Tigers continued to play with the tenacity of that one quarter.  But the sense of urgency was lost at halftime – Cox had too much time to think about it.

Two other things that seemed obvious to me as the game wore down:  1) The younger players on offense want to win – and are leading by example and 2) Because of the mistakes, the coaches options are limited and they lost confidence as the game wore on.

The play of Mario Fannin and Lee Ziemba was outstanding.  Sure Fannin fumbled two times in a row in the second half and because of that the coaches benched him (wonder why Cox can’t get benched for his crappy play?), but again his desire and willingness to lay it on the line got Auburn going the second quarter.  It also helped the overall play of the offense, almost looking like an Al Borges unit.  The other RB Ben Tate got going too as Mario threw the USF defense off balance.  The O Line blocked their schemes much better.  Even Cox hit some passes.  Mistakes aside, it was a mistake to bench Fannin late in the game particularly in overtime.

Say what you want about the offensive line.  I spent more time watching true freshman Lee Ziemba and wow, that kid has the right attitude and style of play.  There’s no doubt he’ll be in the NFL someday.  On just about every running play he was on his block down field.  The problem late in the game was USF loading the box with 9 players.  Lee couldn’t block them all but he held his own pretty good.  Youth on the O Line was not our issue last night.

The coaches should look real hard at other young players with play making ability.  If Kody Burns and Chris Slaughter are anything like their reputations we need to figure out how to get them on the field now.  The younger players look to me like the team from ’04 – desire to do whatever it takes, sense of urgency to dominate opponents on every play, confidence that no matter the situation they will overcome.  Yea they’ll make mistakes but our defense proved last night they can hang in there (more on that in a bit).

The real shocker for me was not the loss but the coaches making the decision to take it into overtime.  With three timeouts, near one full minute left on the clock, and a dead on place kicker they just let the clock wind down.  Shocker number two was that Mario Fannin remained on the bench when OT began.  To me it demonstrated that the coaches lost confidence in Cox and the rest of the offense to get the job done.  USF had Cox’s number.  Only when the running game was working did Cox have the ability to connect on throws.  Without that, the coaches threw in the towel and rolled the dice.

Back to the defense – I thought it was one of the most gutsiest performances ever.  There they were playing pretty much the entire second half with the opponent starting inside AU’s 30 yard line almost every time, it seemed like, and USF could only manage three points the entire second half.  Of course USF’s place kicker missing every kick but one in regulation helped a bit too.  It finally caught up to them in overtime but then again, they shouldn’t have been there.

Trey Blackmon and Aaron Savage were missed.  Having them on the field would have given us more depth down the stretch, better coverage in the secondary, and a stronger ability to rush the QB.  These guys were dressed on the sideline but obviously hurt enough that the coaches want to save them for SEC play.  I can’t wait to have them back.

And that’s about the only positive from this game, today.  The loss last night wasn’t to a conference opponent.

I’ll think about that for a second or two and then type… after seeing the scores from yesterday I don’t see how AU has any chance at LSU or Florida.  We match up well with Georgia and Arkansas but are awfully vulnerable.

There’s lots of work yet to do.  I hope trust can be reestablished on the team and the old Al Borges offense can find itself real soon or it will be a long season for Tiger fans.

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